TV images of mother keep son's nightmare alive

Will Bennett finds much about Joy Gardner is disputed. Was she violent, trying to kill her husband, or a devout Christian; keeping out of sight or always contactable?
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The Independent Online
Memories of the day that his mother died may haunt Graeme Gardner for the rest of his life. When the police burst into their flat in Hornsey, north London in July 1993 he was five years old.

What had started as a normal day with Graeme watching television suddenly became violent as Joy Gardner struggled with the five police officers sent to arrest her for deportation.

For a long time afterwards Graeme was withdrawn, saying little about the incident except to those counselling him. They found the images of the police raid and the sounds of the violent struggle in the living room as he was dressed by a woman officer in his bedroom were still fresh in his mind.

Today he seems cheerful enough and is doing well at school. He has been granted indefinite leave to stay in Britain by the authorities.

His grandmother, Myrna Simpson, 57, has moved to a new flat in north London where she is bringing him up. But he remembers his mother clearly and sometimes when Mrs Simpson takes him out for the day he says to her: "I have been here with mum."

Those memories have been reinforced by media coverage of the Old Bailey trial. Pictures of his mother have flashed up on the television, upsetting the youngster.

The tragedy has led to family history repeating itself. When Myrna Donegan, as she then was, arrived in London on New Year's Day 1961 she left Joy, then seven, in Jamaica in the care of her grandmother. Later she met and married Ranford Simpson, from whom she is now separated. Joy, who had taken her father's surname of Burke, remained in Jamaica where she worked at the Public Works Department in Kingston. In 1987, by which time she had a teenage daughter, she came to Britain at her mother's request.

She arrived already pregnant with Graeme on a six-month visitor's visa but then stayed on illegally. In September 1990 she married Joseph Gardner, a clerical worker 20 years her senior, who is of West Indian origin but has UK citizenship.

He wrote asking for her to be granted permanent resident rights but a month later withdrew the request, saying they had separated. Shortly afterwards he took out two injunctions stopping her visiting his home in Leyton, north-east London.

Everything else about Joy Gardner is disputed. Her former husband claims she beat him up and tried to kill him by leaving gas rings on. Most other people who knew her say that she was not violent and was a devout Christian.

The police who forced their way into her flat on the day she died say they anticipated violence. Her defenders point out that anyone who was raided at 7.40am and refused permission to telephone her solicitor would resist arrest.

The Immigration Service says that it lost track of her for long periods, that it went through all the proper procedures, won every legal battle and that when it booked her on a flight to Jamaica in 1992 she did not show up at the airport. But her family and friends point out she was always contactable via either her mother or her solicitor and that she was repeatedly in contact with the authorities as she fought their deportation moves.

The Home Office has admitted that a letter informing Mrs Gardner's solicitors that she was being deported was deliberately held back to arrive on the same day as her arrest. By the time it was delivered she was already in a coma after being gagged. She died four days later in hospital without regaining consciousness.

Her death produced a furious reaction in the black community and several Labour MPs called for an independent public inquiry.

Her mother said that she was a victim of police brutality.

As the Police Complaints Authority began an investigation, there were fears that her death might spark riots but that did not happen.

The anger among Mrs Gardner's family and friends eased when the Crown Prosecution Service decided to charge Det Sgt Evans and PCs Whitby and Burrell with manslaughter.

It returned after yesterday's Old Bailey verdict.